Leicester Mercury readers get their chance to question the Prime Minister
The widow of a policeman killed in the line of duty confronted the Prime Minister over a pension scheme which means she will lose out if she remarries.
Yesterday, Sandra Burton, 47, of Birstall, showed Gordon Brown a photo of her dead husband, Timothy, telling him: "Unless I give up the money my husband left me, I will be forced to live alone".
Detective Constable Timothy Burton died in 2001 in a car crash while he was on duty transporting a prisoner from Scotland.
During his 23-year service, he paid 11% of his salary into a pension pot, which his widow now receives.
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However, Mrs Burton will lose the pension if she remarries or co-habits with her new partner – a restriction which does not apply to widows whose husbands died after 2006.
Last week, the mother-of-two wrote to the Leicester Mercury with a question that stated: "Please, Mr Brown, if you can change part of the law, why can't you scrap it altogether?"
She told the PM: "I don't want to enter into a new relationship without bringing anything to it.
"The current system is unfair and archaic. If my husband had died five years later, I would be able to keep the money but the cut-off point seems entirely arbitrary."
Mr Brown apologised to Mrs Burton and promised to write to her with details of a new potential pension scheme.
He said: "I think what people have been trying to do is make the system fairer than before.
"What people want to do is recognise at what point do you start the new system and I will write to you with the details.
"I understand your pain. I know it's been an unfair system and we are trying to change it. I'm sorry."
At the moment, spouses, partners and same-sex partners receive lifetime benefits on the death of an officer after April 2006.
Any officer who joins the force after 2006 automatically enters the new pension scheme.
Serving officers have the option to transfer to the new scheme, but those who are already in receipt of a spouse's pension will still have their pensions withdrawn, if they re-marry or co-habit.
The PM met Mrs Burton after taking a tour around Stephenson College, in Coalville, quizzing pupils about their favourite football teams along the way.
During the visit he met teenagers taking National Diplomas in Engineering, as well as bricklayers and students in fancy dress for the BBC's Children in Need appeal.
Diploma student Matthew Harrison, 18, of Coalville, said: "He just asked us what course we were doing and what qualification we would get at the end of it.
"I told him I enjoyed what I was doing – it was just really cool to talk to him."
What the Leicester Mercury readers asked Mr Brown
Teenager and keen astronomer Robin Bonell, from Leicester Forest East, tackled the Prime Minister over the problems of light pollution.
He asked: "Could the Prime Minister please tell me what consideration he and his Government are going to give to the matter of light pollution?"
The 17-year-old thinks light pollution affects both astronomers and wildlife and believes reducing light pollution could help the Government achieve its carbon emission targets.
In response, Gordon Brown asked whether Robin thought the lighting in the room where they were sat was too much.
He said: "You're obviously a scientist. What do you think is the greatest waste of carbon in the lighting sector?"
Robin said he thought it was in leisure and shopping centres.
The PM replied: "We have a programme for Government buildings in terms of cutting down their lighting and I know it's something to consider."
Philip Curtis is the boss of Paton Precision Engineering, in Oadby.
This year, the 16-staff company was thrown into turmoil after two large customers went into administration.
The company is now in more than £250,000 of debt.
He wrote to the Leicester Mercury with a question for Gordon Brown which stated: "What positive help can a firm like Paton Precision expect to get from you and the Labour Government?"
In the end, Mr Curtis was able to pose the question to Business Secretary Peter Mandelson, who said: "We saved the banks from themselves and if we hadn't done that they would have taken down millions of homeowners and businesses.
"Many people have had a really difficult year and we have been able to blunt the impact of the recession by taking various actions.
"One of these was giving 150,000 businesses the chance to delay their tax payments."
Asylum seeker Masimba Chitakunye, 23, of Hamilton, Leicester, has been waiting to discover whether he can remain in the UK since he was 18.
He asked Gordon Brown whether it was fair that some people from his home country of Zimbabwe have to wait almost a decade before they are given a final decision on their application.
He said: "I was beaten up on my way back from an MDC (main opposition party to Robert Mugabe) rally, and then my house was vandalised.
"I had to leave the country but while I wait I cannot work and I cannot get any education, it is really frustrating because I feel like my life and my dreams are on hold."
The Prime Minister said: "I can't look into the circumstances of your case at the moment but I will ask your local MP to take it up.
"I think as a country we have a good record with this kind of thing and we do our best to make the process as speedy as possible."
Mr Chitakunye said he was pleased his circumstances would be looked into.
He said: "It is still bad that many people are waiting for an answer."
Mark Lane, 45, of Birstall, asked a question about Leicester's Bowstring Bridge.
Last week, he wrote to the Mercury to ask Gordon Brown: "Why has the process of local democracy failed in regards to the destruction of the Bowstring Bridge and the Pump and Tap pub?"
He said: "There has been a lot of campaigning over this issue and it has brought the whole community together in a way that has not been seen in Leicester for years.
"The council in the way they have dealt with this has not been with clarity or with common sense."
Unfortunately, Gordon Brown did not have time to answer Mr Lane's question and so it has been passed on to the Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw.
He said: "It's a shame it didn't get answered but it was a good experience anyway."
Andy Murtha, 53, of Braunstone, Leicester, suffers from recurring depressive syndrome and wanted to know why the Government does not pour more funds into tackling mental health.
He said: "When one in four of the population suffer mental ill health at some time in their lives and more than 50% of visits to GPs are related to mental health including depression and stress, why is there so little funding in the NHS given over to mental health?"
Health Secretary Andy Burnham told Mr Murtha that a new document about how mental health is funded had recently been published.
He promised to send Mr Murtha a copy.
In response to the same question, Gordon Brown said he would not be the best person to speak to about the issue and he would pass the message on to Mr Burnham.
Mr Murtha said: "I'm glad I at least came forward and asked the question. I'm not sure it will make much difference but I'll be interested to see if they get in touch with me again."
Lesley Chevin and James Whiting
Two other readers were on a table with deputy leader Harriet Harman.
Lesley Chevin, 54, of Ratby, asked Ms Harman whether more could be done to persuade other countries to send more troops to Afghanistan.
Her son Mark, 23, from 1 Para is set to return from his third tour of the country next week.
Her eldest son struggled to find help to adapt to the world of civilian work when he left the forces.
Ms Harman said the war was backed by a UN mandate and was a multi-national operation.
She said: "There are 41 countries involved and, therefore, they should sign up and do their fair share and what the PM has been doing is personally contacting the leaders of these countries."
She said other countries, such as Canada, had suffered a greater share of tragic losses than the UK and that Mr Brown would be discussing the issue with leaders at a conference in the New Year.
Mrs Chevin said: "My son was in the parachute regiment and trained to jump out of planes – which isn't much use for the world of work.
"He wasn't offered any training after he left. He did find a job but was then made redundant."
Ms Harman said she would speak to Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth about what could be done to help troops.
James Whiting, 26, of South Wigston, told Ms Harman his fiancee had been made redundant and he had fears over whether he could now afford to buy his first home.
He said: "Can something be done to stop companies hiring people on lower wages than a few years ago because they know people need jobs, and when do you think the economy will start to recover?"
Ms Harman said: "I think the economy will be starting to grow again at the turn of the year but we don't want to have the unemployment levels there are in the rest of Europe and America."